A tribute to Jimmy Headrige

Tuesday 24 August 2021 13:52

On this day (24 August), everyone at Manchester United would like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to our former club physiotherapist Jimmy Headrige.

Headrige came to Old Trafford as part of new manager Ron Atkinson’s backroom team in the summer of 1981, but tragically passed away 40 years ago today, after collapsing during a session at The Cliff just weeks into his dream role. 

His legacy lives on not just at United, but throughout modern football, with his pioneering techniques of what we now term medical and sports science continuing to be used throughout football, while those who worked with him are in agreement about how good he was at the job he loved. 
Jimmy Headrige was ahead of his time in his approach.
After the Scot’s own career had come to a premature end following a serious knee injury, he realised the need for better care for footballers off the pitch, driving his desire to go into the subject further. 

Jimmy began his journey off the pitch at Middlesbrough, spending 11 years homing in on his new-found craft in Teesside followed by a spell in the United Arab Emirates with Raz All Kamur and also at Bolton Wanderers.

It was during his time with the Wanderers where he helped Peter Reid to overcome a serious knee injury – something the future Everton and Manchester City man would go on to publicly praise him for upon winning the PFA Player of the Year award in 1985. 
Headrige’s work was that of a trailblazer in the sports science industry, developing techniques and strategies for the medical attention of players that appear routine in the modern game. 

He emphasised the need for personalised care for every single player at his various clubs while insisting on consistent medical examinations to ensure all that he worked with stayed at the top of their games. 

He also underlined the importance of stretching exercises introduced in pre-training and matchday warm-up sessions along with full-time individual rehabilitation plans for every injured player.

His practices were novelties in the game back then and admiring from afar was soon-to-be United manager Atkinson, who had previously failed to convince him to come to West Bromwich Albion. 

But Headrige, 42 at the time, could not turn United down in what was “the fulfillment of a lifelong dream” according to his wife Margaret. 
Headrige (front right) teaching a physiotherapy course on Teesside.
He joined Mick Brown, Brian Whitehouse and Eric Harrison in coming to the club as part of Atkinson’s backroom team ahead of the 1981/82 season. 

The fitness fanatic was “the best in the game” according to our former manager who had some kind words for Headrige in his autobiography. 

“[He] was renowned as one of the top football medical men in the country,” Atkinson wrote. 

“His record of restoring full fitness to injured players in record time was well known in the game. 

“It was this outstanding ability, plus a pleasant outgoing demeanour, that was perfect for a club of United’s standing; for Jimmy, joining Manchester United was the highlight of his career.”

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Exactly 12 months after Jimmy's passing, United welcomed Bolton Wanderers to Old Trafford for a match in order to raise funds for his wife Margaret and children Karen, Lynn and Gary who he sadly left behind. 

Atkinson spoke about his former colleague further in his programme notes ahead of that game, saying: “When I first arrived at Old Trafford, I asked for, and was granted, my own staff around me. Jim was at the top of my shopping list, I’m proud to say he accepted the invitation.

"He had only been with us for a few short weeks together here at Old Trafford. I cannot recall a man, at any level, who so quickly won the respect and admiration of his colleagues. Make no mistake, Jim was the best physio in the game.”

In 2015, Headrige was recognised for his efforts by the Football Medical Association (FMA) when he was posthumously honoured with the Outstanding Contribution award, poignantly presented to his family by Atkinson at the FMA’s annual conference. 

It is just one of several ways his work has been recognised by those in the industry over the four decades since his passing, while his efforts remain integral to the current climate of sports science and medicine in football. Those at United remember Jimmy on this sad anniversary.

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